Professor Lekan teaches undergraduate surveys of European civilization and modern Germany, as well as specialized undergraduate courses and seminars on environmental history, the urban experience in modern Europe, and Nazi social history. He also leads graduate seminars in environmental history, European history, and dissertation prospectus writing. In addition, he has utilized oral histories and documentary film in undergraduate research initiatives that document the regional identities and legacies of environmental injustice associated with Southeastern landscapes, most notably through Tales of the Tidelands: Oral History, Documentary Production, and Environmental Values in the South Carolina Lowcountry and ongoing collaborations with nearby Congaree National Park, local environmental organizations, and USC's Green Quad Learning Center for Sustainable Futures. As a result of Tales of the Tidelands, he received the Golden Key Faculty Award for the Creative Integration of Research and Undergraduate Teaching in 2005.
To view Tales of the Tidelands, see:
On the Green Quad Learning Center, see:
My research focuses on central issues in European environmental history and the environmental humanities more broadly: how systems of power, social identities, cultural discourses, and ecological crises have shaped modern understandings of “nature,” molded the landscapes that we inhabit, and catalyzed green movements in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My first book, Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German Identity, 1885-1945 (Harvard University Press, 2004), explored the relationship between nature conservation, landscape planning, and national identity in the Wilhelmine, Weimar, and National Socialist periods of German history; go here for a more detailed description of this work. With Thomas Zeller, I also edited a volume of essays entitled Germany’s Nature: Cultural Landscapes and Environmental History (Rutgers University Press, 2005).
I have also published a number of essays that analyze Germany’s environmental traditions in a global and comparative perspective, including the “The Nature of Home,” which compares the American wilderness and German Heimat approaches to conservation, “Turning Points in Environmental History: The Nation State,” which examines the relationship between state-building, environmental control, and grassroots mobilization across European, American, and Asian contexts, and a recent roundtable forum in the journal German History, “The Nature of German History”. As a result of my work in global environmental history, I received the University of South Carolina’s Educational Foundation Award for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2009.
I am now pursuing a transnational study of post-World War II European nature conservation in a global context of decolonization, the Cold War, mass tourism, and new media representations of nature that offers critical insights for our contemporary debates about sustainable development, ecotourism, and environmental justice. My book manuscript, Saving the Serengeti: Tourism, the Cold War, and the Paradox of German Nature Conservation in Postcolonial Africa, 1950-1985, investigates the blind spots and unintended consequences of German and European wildlife conservation and nature tourism after World War II. By examining the popular-science publications, documentary films, television programs, and conservation campaigns of the Zoological Society and its charismatic leader, media star Bernhard Grzimek, from the 1950s through the 1980s, Saving the Serengeti offers a critical lens for analyzing how the unresolved longings of Germany’s short colonial period, the tensions of decolonization and the Cold War, and the rise of West Germans as the “world champions of travel” after 1960 shaped West German environmental politics at home and abroad in the decades between the Nazis and the Greens. Grzimek transformed the Society from a small band of animal lovers into one of the most important NGOs in global conservation by convincing Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere to set aside vast swathes of territory as national parks, including several game reserves first imposed by colonial administrators in German East Africa. Through these efforts, Grzimek saved the habitat of millions of endangered wild animals and created an income stream for newly independent African nations, yet the transformation of the Serengeti and other reserves into national parks came at a price: the dislocation of Maasai pastoralists, increasing tension between farmers and wild animals along park borders, the loss of vernacular environmental knowledge critical to grassland ungulates, and a tendency for affluent Western tourists to “love nature to death.
This project has received generous fellowship support from several institutions, including the American Council for Learned Societies, the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., Princeton University’s Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, and the National Humanities Center. I recently published an article about Grzimek’s wildlife films and the development of nature tourism in East Africa in the journal German History.
You may also view my interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation’s series “Unnatural Histories” about Bernhard Grzimek’s legacy in the Serengeti.